Tonight I prayed with a woman whose twenty-year-old daughter was in a severe accident two week’s ago in California.
The daughter’s head was severed internally, but they kept her body alive in hopes surgery could reconnect the neck and brain functions could be restored.
It didn’t and they weren’t.
So a mom comes home on Christmas Eve, walks into the bookstore as festive crowds were gathering for the Christmas Eve service that she herself had come for.
What words? What prayer?
I found myself praying about murdered babies in Bethlehem, about darkness that makes no sense, and for a glimmer of light in the midst of it. She probably should have found someone else.
I was asked by someone else tonight if prayers and prayer walks around town have actually made a measureable difference. I sensed this was a “prayer warrior” type, God bless her, and fortunately I didn’t blurt out, “Why, whenever we pray the walls fall down, the sun stands still, and the waters part.”
It definitely would have come out snarky (and we all know that blogs are the habitat for snarkiness, so there, I said it here).
How do we measure the tangible effectiveness of prayer – especially when that prayer is an inaudible groan that goes down to your bones? And how do you send someone into a Christmas Eve service after they have just experienced such a horrific loss?
I don’t know. You can fill me in.
I just know that after being with this mom in her loss, I went to sit with my wife and my twenty-year-old daughter along with her (just freshly turned) twenty-year old friend. And I realized anew what gifts surround us each moment that so often go unvalued, unappreciated, unseen. And how quickly, how suddenly, those gifts can become memory.
And I was thankful.
And I thought of this quote from the book I’m just now reading – the latest by Peter Rollins (one of my favs – he hurts my brain – the title is Insurrection). The bloke is on to something. So be thankful, tonight, wherever you are, whomever you are with. And if you are in pain, be thankful you can feel it, stop looking for the Religious God to numb or soothe it away, for it is in the midst of unbearable loss – even the perceived loss of God, that we enter into the cross and the true meaning of the day we may find ourselves singing about this night.
Inviting people to open up to the experience of doubt and unknowing is much more tricky: The religious God provides us with such stability that the experience of losing it involves nothing less than the horrifying experience of being forsaken. Such a journey into darkness can be so unnatural and frightening that we avoid this narrow path at all costs, even turning violently on anyone who would encourage us to do so.
Those who commit themselves to the task of helping people really enter into doubt, unknowing, and ambiguity need to be ten, twenty, even a hundred times better than those who sell certainty. They have got to be prepared to walk a difficult and often dangerous path if they wish to invite people into this murky and uncertain world, for in doing so they bring to the surface a whole host of anxieties that we spend so much of our time and resources repressing. It is understandable that certain pastors fill stadiums with people longing to solidify their already established desires, reconverting people to what they have converted to so many times before. Getting people to believe is easy precisely because it is so natural for us. Any persuasive human can do it – and even make some money in the process. But to truly unplug from the God of religion, with all the anxieties and destress this involves, takes courage.
Indeed, one could say that it takes God.